Brian Jordan Alvarez Strikes Gold
Do we even deserve the spectacular content that Brian Jordan Alvarez continuously feeds us? Who’s to say, but the world sure needs it. As a Creator and Actor, Alvarez has independently released countless videos, web series, and now films, on YouTube, in addition to his notable work in the industry.
I first met Alvarez five years ago on the set of a student film- I was a PA and he was the lead Actor- and he was just as marvelous back then. Fun fact: it was on this same film that Alvarez met his creative counterpart, Stephanie Koenig, who he has collaborated with ever since.
Flaunt spoke with Alvarez two years ago, just following the release of his beloved web series, The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, from which he has garnered a cult-like following in the gay community and the comedy-obsessed Internet community alike. Since then, Alvarez has made strides on prominent shows such as Will & Grace, and continues to grace us with hilarious YouTube videos that he creates along with his talented friends.
Last month, Alvarez released an obscurely epic feature film, completely out-of-the-blue via YouTube, called Grandmother’s Gold, which he wrote in about two weeks, and shot in nine days around Los Angeles. I caught up with Alvarez at Echo Park Lake to discuss this wild film, and his other recent work. We sat in the shade as he sipped a very hot coffee on a very hot day.
HR: I want to start off talking about Grandmother’s Gold. First of all, I’m obsessed with that movie, I love it so much.
BJA: Great, thank you so much.
HR: It’s amazing. What was the inspiration to make a movie that is all at once a Christmas movie, about the future and the downfall of society, a friend comedy, and about family as well?
BJA: Yeah, I think I wanted to make something on a big scope. So, Caleb Gallo was only as real as our real lives, there was no fantastical element to it, really. And some of the other stuff we’ve made has just been very real, like people in offices. So, for Grandmother’s Gold, I wanted to make a movie. To me, some of my favorite movies are, like, the Alien movies, Prometheus, which is in that franchise, so obviously I'm obsessed with those. Avatar. Big, big, movies, The Wizard of Oz, you know. So, we certainly were working within our budget, this movie I just paid for out of my own pocket with some acting money that I had, and everyone was very supportive, my team and everyone was great. What I wanted to do was make a movie, a big movie, with the money that we had, so these concepts were kind of the way into that. To go, well, you want to create high stakes, but you don’t want to have to have explosions. So, it’s like, "Well, the world’s ending, but nobody knows about it yet". And then you meet God and Jesus (laughs).
HR: That is fucking hilarious to me.
BJA: Yeah. And I knew that we could shoot in Malibu Canyon easily. I think early on, when I was conceiving of it, I labeled it as “An End-of-the-World Christmas Comedy”, which really rolls off the tongue. And yeah, I mean, I just wanted to put us in real movie situations, you know. The scope is what comes to mind, I wanted a big scope. And people have said that, they’re like, “It’s amazing because in some ways, you can tell you made it for fun, but also it’s kind of epic”.
HR: Yeah, it gets pretty deep. Like, the fact that there’s God and Jesus, and the world is ending. It’s just so bizarre, I feel like in the beginning I had no idea what to expect and it just kept getting crazier.
BJA: Yeah, I think part of what happens in my mind, too, is that I’ve watched so many movies in my life that the things I make are like, “It’s like every movie!” Kind of like how Caleb Gallo was, in a way, like my version of all the TV shows I had ever seen. The way people talk, the situations they’re in. So Grandmother’s Gold, to me, is like a movie in this formal sense, where I’m like, “This is what movies are like”. They’re about these big things, and they have a theme. And I wanted to get through that process, really, for the first time, to make a movie from start to finish. And it’s been a huge hit.
HR: Congratulations! Totally, amazing reception. And the fact that you didn’t even announce it, you released it as a surprise. What compelled you to do that?
BJA: Well, I just think that’s cool. I mean, Beyoncé does it. It’s like, the coolest thing, and also, if you don’t set any expectation up, then you don’t really disappoint anybody. So there’s only positivity when it comes out.
HR: That’s a very good point. So in the film, the government cancels the Internet, which causes the economy to crash a few years later, because “you can’t go backwards”, and “we didn’t invent the Internet, we are the Internet”. In your life and career, the Internet has been your main tool to build your audience and put everything out (via YouTube). Do you think that the Internet is an extension of who you are? And do you think that this DIY method of putting things out is going to flip the industry upside down?
BJA: Maybe, I mean they’re working together, and the industry is not turning a blind eye to how well the Internet is doing. It’s all integrated. A lot of the things we watch from the biggest companies, like Netflix, are on the Internet. It’s just, like, a formal YouTube. But yeah, it’s funny that I have come up in a lot of ways on the Internet, and I’ve now moved into much more traditional stuff, with Will & Grace. But there’s this thing where people say that a young artist will often make one of their first pieces about losing a loved one, the death of a loved one. It’s a very common thing to do, because it’s, like, the first thing you can think of. So maybe I love the Internet so much that I was like, “Well, wouldn’t it be so sad if it was dead for my first big movie?”
HR: Wow, that’s interesting. So how much of the film was improv versus your script?
BJA: I would say it comes out to about 25% for improv. I think it seems like a lot more improv than it is, and it’s a compliment to the actors, and because we create a really comfortable vibe on set. They really are saying the lines, it just sounds like they just made it up, which is absolutely ideal. A lot of that ending scene with God, that’s one of my favorite things, because I remember I was editing it and I was just watching it, and I was just like, “This is so engaging”. Just all of us shouting at each other, you know, and being like, “Stop! Shut Up! Shut Up!” And a lot of that, maybe half of that, is not exactly the script, but everybody knew their lines and then they were playing around with their lines. But yeah, I was impressed with how comfortable we all got, to where you could play a wide like that and everybody was at 100% acting-wise.
HR: Amazing. What do you think the world will be like in 2023? And where do you see yourself then?
BJA: I think it will be pretty similar to now. I mean, I’d like to be a real international film and TV megastar by then, who’s making the world a better place with my acting and with the things that I make with my friends. I mean, for me, my career implicitly creates gay visibility, so I’m grateful for that. But yeah, I don’t think the Internet’s going away. I don’t think anything very dramatic is going to happen by 2023. My dad has always noticed that in a lot of ways technology has moved slower that he thought it would when he was a kid, because he expected flying cars. And there’s just still cars. They’re just kind of all regular cars, just like they used to be. They’re just more fuel efficient now.
HR: Haha, that is very true.
BJA: But yeah, I’d like to be doing this work on an extremely high level, and just be giving love to the world. It’s important to me- and Grandmother’s Gold especially does this- it’s important to me to really deliver a message of love, and that life is good, and that life is for you, and we can feel good and have connection, and live a good life. That the world is a deeply a kind place, and that life itself is deeply kind, and tends to be kind despite the greed and negativity.
HR: That’s inspiring, thank you. It’s important to put out good things, especially in this insane world. That’s what it’s all about. Moving on to some other things, obviously you’ve been on Will & Grace, and are continuing to be. That has been such an iconic show for the gay community, so what has it been like to be a part of that, while also starting kind of a new wave as a gay icon through the Internet?
BJA: It’s been amazing, it’s been an amazing coming together of all of the things that I’ve wanted my whole life. It’s just the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten, and I cannot express my gratitude to Max Mutchnick and David Cohen enough, they’re the creators of the show. And they’re extremely smart in their Writer’s Room. They have the Writers who are vetted geniuses who made Will & Grace a hit in the first place, them and, of course, the four lead actors. But they also bring in new blood, really intelligent young Writers. You know, they, of course, had this part before I came into the picture, it was written exactly as is, so I did not create this part by any means, but they expressed to me their excitement about what they had seen of mine, and I think they made a very giving choice in bringing me, as somebody who is maybe a part of the new guard, onto a show that is just a masterpiece. And it has tangibly made the world a better place, which is something you can say for so few sitcoms. And that’s really the gift, to make the world a better place through comedy. And nothing has done that like Will & Grace. I mean, that’s how you do it. You say loudly, and I try to do this in my work, you: A) You just make something that’s funny to everyone, and that’s an extremely high-level piece of work, and B) In that work, you say, “We are here”. You say it really loudly and clearly, “We are queer, and we’re here”. But it’s been amazing, I mean the Actors are so friendly, it’s incredible, they’ve known each other for years and they’re just so happy to be there, and they’re so friendly toward anyone who comes. And they’re masters, I mean Debra (Messing), watching Debra work, watching Sean (Hayes) work, watching Eric (McCormack) and Megan (Mullally) work, I feel like I am learning from masters, and I’m just in class, really. I sit on set watching the rehearsals, when I could be in the green room, but I’ll just sit and watch them. Jim Burrows, the Director, he’s so effortless, he directed most of Friends, did the whole first season, but Will & Grace is the only show he stayed with for every episode because he just loves working with all of those people so much. And so do I.
HR: That’s amazing that it is as incredible as it seems.
BJA: Yeah, you never know, I mean I’ve been on sets that are not as positive, but for Will & Grace, people are just happy to be there, you can tell. The crew is happy to be there, the crew is laughing, the actors are laughing, we’re having so much fun between takes. Sean makes me laugh so much between takes, just always making jokes.
HR: That’s the best environment to create good work in, too.
BJA: Yeah, it’s very conducive. I feel very free on that set.
HR: I watched your episode (Season 1 Finale), it was great. It reminded me of some of your earlier YouTube characters.
BJA: Yeah my mom is Colombian, and so I’ve grown up around accents. So, for this role, they had it written with a Spanish accent, I mean they wrote the whole role, but it was exciting to me to be able to audition for a role that had an accent. Especially one that was very similar to my mom’s accent.
HR: So, you put out so much content-
BJA: I’m glad you think so.
HR: Yeah, it blows my mind, I don’t know how you do it. First of all, how do you do it? And second of all, what advice would you give to creators who are trying to do things independently?
BJA: You know, I feel like usually I don’t have an answer for this question, but right now it does come to mind that the answer is getting past your own critic. That’s kind of it. And you need to be practicing confidence in your own mind. You need to believe in yourself before anybody else does. And you have to keep doing that in an active, consistent way, reminding yourself, saying to yourself, “I’m great, I’m doing a good job, I’m proud of you”. And then, meet that with what I call “Doing the work every day”, which is more about the consistency than it is about the amount. So, think of watering a garden. If you water a garden with a ton of water once a month, it’s still going to be a pretty bad garden. I think. I may be completely wrong about this, but I think, if you water a garden every day, just a bit, just as much as it needs, you’re going to have this extremely lush paradise. And you’ll go in there every day when you’re doing the work, and you’ll prune the leaves. I learned from this woman named Dallas Travers, I listen to a podcast of hers, she advises Actors, and years ago she said, “Do less, more often”. So just do a little bit, consistently. That’s been what has worked for me. And, for me in particular, and this isn’t the same for everyone, but I spent a lot of time thinking I needed to just be an Actor, and tried to stifle the part of myself that made things. And I can’t. It’s something I do instinctually, and I’m not nearly as happy if I’m not making things, as well as acting. So, when I fused making things with acting, then it was a turbo-boost, and it worked.
Interview & Photographs by: Hailey Ruffner